Is LinkedIn becoming Facebook? How do we avoid being seen as unserious or unprofessional in bringing our personal experiences into our brand?
I see the root of this debate being about the role of emotional intelligence within branding. Whether we are conscious of it or not, personal LinkedIn posts are created from a desire to share emotion. But that doesn’t make them “connective”. People who post emotionally, with no thought as to whether the user can take away anything valuable or insightful are, I would venture, not demonstrating a great deal of empathy or self-awareness. But there are plenty of people who do manage to convey this. So rather than talk about “content type” should we be having a conversation about “content intent” as it pertains to personal information?
Emotional resonance and pathos are important psychological tools in being persuasive
Pathos is one of the “modes of persuasion” from Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”, the foundation of modern marketing. It represents an appeal to the audience’s emotions; their sympathies and imagination. It engenders a response, creating… well whatever you intend to create. That could be connection, or it could be dissonance.
So the question to consider is not “should I post a personal experience?”, but “what is the response I am seeking”?
I mentioned value and insight at the beginning. These take many forms, don’t think I am purely referring to the educational. Brightening someone’s day is valuable. Shocking someone into reconsideration of a bias or stance may also be valuable; to them and you! With practice, you can become familiar with this way of thinking, so that it can help shape what you post to carry a little more intent and resonate with your audience, because they feel that intent!
But there is also a particular type of disingenuous personal post which I call an “engagement grab”. Here’s an example from LinkedIn I saw this week:
I have a very guilty pleasure… It’s something that shouldn’t even register, but really does. I think it’s the geek within me..
Mainland European service stations..
I just love them, I love the variety of stuff you can buy, from knives to legs of ham and red wine..
I love the random locations that they are and the people that work in them..
When we drive ‘on the continent’, it really is something I look forward to..
Come on.. What’s your guilty pleasure?
This post is by someone who is currently off work, on holiday. They should probably enjoy some digital detox and stay off LinkedIn! There is a call to action at the end, but this is just an internal monologue, externalised. Does this guy really need to know my gulity pleasures? What use is his information to me, or mine to him? Or either set to anyone else, when the LinkedIn algorithm takes my reply and adds it to the feed of my followers. This “amplification of banality” is what people really have a problem with! And this person works in digital content creation…. they know exactly what they’re doing!
The balance between “I” and “you”
As a simple starting point, review your posts before publishing and ensure that you are demonstrating self-awareness and empathy by making a relative point that connects your post to your audience. Does your post contain both “I” and “you”, or is it just “I” and “me”? Here’s an example of the intro to a LinkedIn post I saw this week:
I’ve been adding lots of new followers lately, so I’ve decided it’s the ideal time for me to share more about myself and my back story….
How does this feel when you read it? I understand the internal logic, this person has new followers so they want to get a message out to them, no problem! But do I feel inclined to click the “read more” to see the rest? Not really. If they had said: “I’ve been adding lots of new followers lately and I’d love to share some personal insight with you, to explain why I’m great to work with...”, it would have introduced a purpose, a possible benefit and a hint of intrigue, thus making a connection.
In these days of the “attention economy” every post we publish consumes someone’s time. And on LinkedIn, the frustration people express is the feeling that their time is being wasted. None of us want to be known as timewasters, so make your “appeal” clear and resonant, and avoid being seen as a brand who is thinking only of themselves in what they post.
Quick reference tips for “connectivity”
Include a “value” keyword e.g. “I found this useful”, “Top tip from what I discovered today…” or “Just stumbled across this amazing X, that’s great for Y”
Pose an opening question e.g. “What does X teach us about Y?” then relate it to your experience (as opposed to just saying “I found X interesting”)
Mention “you” in the opening sentence, not as an afterthought at the end. e.g “I had a thought which might resonate with you”, or “If you want X, here’s an interesting thing…”
Include an element of intrigue e.g. “This changed my thinking about…” or “My expectations were really exceeded by…”